This month I’ve chosen to highlight a poetry collection on my YouTube channel. I’ve taken quiet moments here and there for my own pleasure and listened to poetry readings by Tom O’Bedlam of Ireland. The one that I enjoyed most recently is The Secret of the Machines by Rudyard Kipling. The poem in plain text can be found at the Poetry Foundation.
Kipling’s poem lends itself to a number of uses for teaching advanced ELLs. The most obvious choices are the traditional practices of reading and interpreting. But what else can be done with these verses? As a teacher, I love to get the most I can out of materials. I think it’s a good exercise for us to consider all the possibilities, and then we can select the forms of practice that best suit the needs of the students we’re currently teaching.
Would you like to join me in exploring The Secrets of the Machines? Here are my ideas. Feel free to add more.
- Speaking or Writing about the Theme. Identify how the poet views the relationship between people and machines. Do you agree or disagree with this viewpoint?
- Speaking or Writing about the Message. Do you think Kipling’s verses offer some kind of teaching to us today in the digital age?
- Matching Machines to Their Uses. Carefully read the verses and identify as many machines as you can by their purpose. For example, Kipling is referring to the telephone when he writes, “Would you call a friend from half across the world?/ If you’ll let us have his name and town and state.” You can ask students to use specific structures for this exercise, such as infinitives of purpose or relative clauses. (We use phones in order to place calls. / The telephone, which can be used to call someone halfway across the world, is mentioned in these verses.)
- Interpreting the Attitude of the Machines. Read the first stanza. Underline all the passive verbs and circle all the active verbs. What relationship between the machines and people do these lines express?
- Creating More Voices of the Machines. Use patterns from the poem and machines that didn’t exist in Kipling’s time and create additional statements of purpose or questions. Model: We can text and search and Skype and use Wi-Fi,/ We can wash and rinse and steam and then blow dry.
- Doing a Blend of Solo and Choral Reading. Once the verses are familiar and understood, you can assign lines to students. The poem is long enough for each student to be charged with learning a small part of it. Ask them to practice their lines well. In the correct order, students will stand up and deliver their lines. The class will then repeat those lines as a group.
- Creating a Dialog. In pairs, students can use selected verses and add their own lines to form an imaginary conversation between a machine and a user, a news reporter (or biographer) and a machine, or two machines. Example: Where did you come from? - “We were taken from the ore-bed and the mine,/ We were melted in the furnace and the pit—” You can focus on rising and falling intonation in this exercise.
- Having More Fun with Personification. Create a speech as a representative of the machines. Your purpose can be to gain appreciation from your human users or to rebel against their mistreatment. Note: students can work alone or in pairs and deliver their speeches to the class.